A new article on The Intercept web-site (“New Details Emerge About Coronavirus Research at Chinese Lab” by Sharon Lerner and Myra Hvistendahl, posted September 7, 2021), reveals some startling new information about the Gain Of Function (GOF) research carried out on bat coronaviruses by Chinese and American scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance.
The Intercept used FOIA litigation against the National Institutes of Health in order to gain access to 900 pages of documents about the work carried out on bat coronaviruses by EcoHealth Alliance. Lerner and Hvistendahl report that: “The documents contain several critical details about the research in Wuhan, including the fact that key experimental work with humanized mice was conducted at a biosafety level 3 lab at Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment – and not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as was previously assumed.”
A little searching reveals two different but nearby addresses for the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment: “East Lake Road 115, Wuchang, Wuhan” and “115 Donghu Road, Wuchang District Wuhan”. Both addresses represent places in Wuchang district in the centre of Wuhan, in between East Lake and the Yangtze River. In addition, both addresses lie close to the headquarters of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) which, as explained in a previous post, lies about 8 to 9 miles from the Wuhan Wet Market (or Wuhan Seafood Market), which is the place hypothesised as the starting-point of the pandemic by those who believe that COVID-19 arose from a natural crossover event.
This is the first time that hard evidence has emerged proving that research on these viruses was carried out at a lab in Wuhan city centre, in addition to the WIV BioSafety Level-4 (BSL-4) labs that lie a dozen miles or more to the south. As such, it significantly improves the case for the lab leak theory of SARS-CoV-2 origin.
The article by Lerner and Hvistendahl demonstrates that we finally have proof for two crucially important details about the genesis of COVID-19:
1) That key Gain Of Function research on bat coronaviruses has been carried out at a minimum of two different laboratories in Wuhan, China: the WIV BSL-4 labs in southern Wuhan and the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment. The latter facility is situated in central Wuhan, but it posseses only BSL-3 laboratories, which are inadequate for conducting this highly risky type of research. It has also been proposed that GOF research has been carried out at the WIV headquarters building, which is located about a mile away from the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment in central Wuhan, although this has not yet ben proven. The WIV HQ is equipped only with BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs.
2) That the latest proven location for GOF research into bat coronaviruses, the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, lies only about 8 miles from the Wuhan Wet Market, and is therefore located well within the initial epicentre of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. This is shown by maps depicting the locations of the earliest SARS-CoV-2 cases seen up to December 31, 2019, which appear as maps B to E in Figure 1 in an on-line article entitled “The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review” by Kristian Andersen, Eddie Holmes, Robert Garry, Michael Worobey and 17 other scientists, posted on July 7 this year. They show that the earliest cases cluster around an area of central Wuhan that contains both the Wuhan wet market (described here as “Huanan market”) on the west side of the Yangtze, and the university area (containing the WIV HQ and the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment) on the east side of the river.
This new information disposes of the central epidemiological argument proposed by the 21 scientists who wrote “The Origins of SARS-CoV-2: A Critical Review”, which was that the place where the key SARS-CoV-2 research had been conducted (which they presumed to be the WIV BSL-4 labs in southern Wuhan) lay too far away from the locations of the very first SARS-CoV-2 cases for the lab leak hypothesis to be viable. They insisted that SARS-Cov-2 was almost certainly “a zoonotic event” (a natural crossover from animal to human), rather than the escape of a virus from a laboratory, but their key supporting epidemiological evidence has now disappeared.
Ed Hooper, September 8, 2021.
It has been pointed out to me that a new post by The Intercept dated September 10 represents a slight backdown from the information contained in its previous post, for it includes the following paragraph of explanation:
“Scientists unanimously told The Intercept that the [Gain Of Function] experiment, which involved infecting genetically engineered mice with “chimeric” hybrid viruses, could not have directly sparked the pandemic. None of the viruses listed in the write-ups of the experiment are related to the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, closely enough to have evolved into it. Still, several scientists said the new information, which the NIH released after it was sued by The Intercept, points to biosafety concerns, highlighting a general lack of oversight for research on pathogens and raising questions about what other information has not been publicly disclosed.”
It seems to me that this removes the hard evidence, implied in its previous piece, that Gain Of Function (GOF) research leading to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had been carried out at the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, which is a BSL-3 lab in Wuhan city centre. However, since the WIV BSL-4 lab to the south of Wuhan city centre only opened in 2018, all GOF research with bat coronaviruses that was carried out by the WIV and EcoHealth Alliance between 2013 and 2017 must have been conducted in BSL-3 and BSL-2 labs that were inadequately equipped for such research. And we know that two such labs which were involved with this programme of research were the headquarters of the WIV and the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, both of which are situated in Wuhan city centre, in the initial epicentre of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.
However, note the final comment in the Intercept piece, that this latest release of NIH documents “rais[es] questions about what other information has not been publicly disclosed.” This appears to imply that other bat coronaviruses may have been experimented upon, in addition to the “viruses listed in the write-ups of the experiment”.
So although the latest article removes one level of proof, the backdown is not, in my opinion, a significant one.
Ed Hooper, September 15, 2021.